Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Wide Receiver

By Matthew Marczi

Ask any Pittsburgh Steelers fan now and he’ll tell you that the offseason began way too early for their team, which even according to team president Art Rooney II should have been in the playoffs.

If you asked that same fan at the Bye Week for their mock draft, however, they might have already had written up as the Steelers faced a seemingly unthinkable winless September to start the year.

There’s always somebody ready to start talking about the offseason, no matter how early on it is in the process. And in the middle of January, it’s still quite early to start talking about the draft—not that there’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s a pre-free agency, pre-salary cap purging look at the Steelers’ draft needs, position by position.

When I look at what the wide receiver depth chart currently has to offer, I find it rather wanting, although that excludes impending free agents Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. Let’s take a look at what the Steelers are currently working with.

Antonio Brown: After a Pro Bowl and (second-team) All-Pro season during which he set a franchise record in receiving yards and became the first player in NFL history with at least five catches for 50 or more yards in every game, I think it’s safe to say that Antonio Brown has established himself as a key cog in this offense moving forward. Though his height limits him a bit, he gets every ounce out of his natural abilities and then some.

Markus Wheaton: During his rookie campaign, Markus Wheaton didn’t get much chance to contribute to the offense—certainly not as much as he would have liked. A big part of that was, of course, injuries hindering his production, but by the time he returned from injury, Cotchery was already entrenched as the slot receiver. The Steelers will be counting on a big leap from him in year two.

Derek Moye: Derek Moye is tall. Really tall. He’s also skinny. I worry about him breaking in half when I see him go up for a ball. But he did go up for a couple of balls last year, and he didn’t break in half, and sometimes he even came down with the ball. He caught one touchdown early in the season, but dropped another one later on. I’d like to see him show that he’s not just a tall target, because they already have tight ends for that. He needs to justify his roster spot without being a significant special teams contributor. Certainly if he wants to get a hat on Sundays.

Justin Brown: Moye is the reason that Justin Brown spent his rookie season on the practice squad. He’s tall and has decent speed for his size, but he wasn’t polished enough yet to beat out Moye as a rookie, despite having a decent showing early in the preseason.

Kashif Moore: A former undrafted free agent, Kashif Moore received very little playing time during the preseason, though he did manage two catches for 24 yards, including a reception of 20 yards in the final preseason game. Moore spent time on the practice squad, perhaps mainly for his potential ability as a returner.

Jasper Collins: An undrafted free agent last season, Jasper Collins evidently didn’t make any impact at all last year. He was waived injured in August by the Miami Dolphins and then spent time with the Cleveland Browns on their practice squad. He certainly won’t be affecting the Steelers’ draft strategy.

Draft Strategy: As alluded to earlier, there are two glaring omissions from the list above, as they are currently free agents. Cotchery is almost certain to return next season, whereas Sanders is likely to price his way out of Pittsburgh. There is a very minute chance of the Steelers giving Plaxico Burress another chance, but, again, he’ll have no impact on draft strategy.

Wide receiver can really be addressed at literally any point of this draft for the Steelers, as early as the first round, and possibly with multiple draft picks again. There will most likely be an opening for a starting receiver spot that Cotchery and Wheaton will wrestle for, though if the Steelers somehow land a top talent, a rookie could even be in the mix to start.

With a franchise quarterback in place, however, it’s imperative to replenish the wide receiver depth, so I feel confident that the position will be addressed early, within the first two days of the draft.

Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Quarterback
Steelers Early Offseason Positional Draft Needs – Running Back

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • HopalongCassidy

    The Steelers need a big wide receiver to compliment their smaller receivers…one who can go up for the ball and take it away from small DB’s and use his size to shield DB’s on short routes. Preferably this WR will have good speed to be a deep threat as well. I would really hate to see them go for another receiver who is on the small side.

  • Jollyrob68

    Unless Watkins slips to 15 then you take him.

  • Callentown

    By FAR, the best WR in this draft.

  • James Kling

    Watkins looked very strong and did not seem “small” in that bowl game. Agreed, he’s easily the best.

  • Jonathon Bert Schade

    I’d like to see a WR taken among the first three rounds and another in the 6th or 7th.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    Basically, this team needs Plax from 10-12 years ago. As much as fans have been in love with talking about drafting a “big-bodied” receiver for years, now is when it makes the most sense. If Wheaton steps up the way we all hope he will, the Steelers will have all the shifty speed they need. All that’s lacking is a bigger target to draw secondary mismatches and occasional double coverage—a guy who’ll be a go-to target in the red zone, and who still has the strides to gain separation. Even the threat of a receiver like this in the mix will make Bell that much more effective. Not to mention, Heath would be open all day.

  • DrakePirate

    i see it the same way

  • DrakePirate

    Watkins isn’t small … he’s a decent size WR, but yes i would take him as he is the best this year !

  • DrakePirate

    I think most of the fan base see it this way … here’s to hoping the FO and Coaching staff do as well !

  • steeltown

    Marczi – Lanear Sampson..he was signed to a futures contract earlier this month right?… probably just training camp fodder, not sure he’ll stick or have any sort of impact but I guess we’ll see

  • LayDownTheHammer

    To DrakePirate, HopalongCassidy, and other readers:

    1) Watkins is 6’1 so he’s not what most people call a “big” WR in any case. He’s loved because he has 3 things so much more important than size in a WR – route-running, hands, and speed. No way he lasts until 15 IMO; look at the draft order. The only team picking before us that couldn’t use a WR is Houston, Chicago, and maybe Atlanta.

    2) It really irritates me when people want to draft a WR in the first round and/or because of size. People, this year’s WR class is the deepest in a decade I might say. When a particular position is deep, you never pick that in the first round – drafting rule of thumb – especially if you’re like us and have a thousand other needs. I wouldn’t pick a WR before the 3rd round compensatory picks. Too many needs elsewhere.
    Secondly, size is so overrated. I know Ben clamors for one, but he has been doing great without one, and let’s face it, the QB makes the WR more than the opposite. How many putz WRs have you never heard of that are/became great because they were catching passes from Brady/Manning? How come Larry Fitzgerald gets no love because he has no one decent to throw him passes? How come no one gives a crap that Megatron had 1300+ yards in 2008 when they had double crap at QB and his team went 0-16? Point is that though Ben gripes about size, he has the ability to make a WR great. So let’s not go overboard with the size train here. The VAST majority of tall WRs have not been as game/NFL-ready as shorter ones. Why? The short ones are often quicker/faster and stronger route-runners. I’m sorry but this is the NFL, even if you’re 6’5 and run halfway decent routes, getting even 700 yards isn’t a given. Players that use size too much in college and less their route-running/quickness are prime examples of non-impact players until they improve these facets (e.g. Evans and Benjamin). Size is a cover-up for how much “leeway” a QB can get in being precise with the pass. Shorter WRs have shorter dimensions (laterally and vertically) and so the throwing radius for a complete pass is less. But if your QB can throw on the money because of ability, who the heck cares about throwing radius (i.e., WR height)? Perspective, people…perspective.

  • Guest

    See my previous post on size and WRs

  • Guest

    If we draft a WR before the 3rd rd compensatory picks I’m going to throw something at the TV.

  • Matt Manzo

    What do you think about a TE in the first 2 rounds? It could kill 2 birds?
    Only reason I could see us grabbing a WR in 1 is if they don’t see the value on D there? This could be trade down year? I’m starting to worry about Evans and Benjamin as our 1st for the reasons you stated above, I see good picks in round 2 but that’s only cool if we grab a CB in 1. We can’t wait til 3 to pick IKes replacement!
    So I think it could go TE in 1 and CB in 2. If that’s the case, whoever our WR pick is is gonna be a project, but the TE makes it ok.
    You’re also right about the depth at WR! If we go TE early, fast receiving TE, then we could wait til the 4th or 5th pick to get a WR.
    It all depends on the CB for me. As long as there’s one in the 1st 2 rounds everything should fall into place and we should be in control the rest of the way!
    May is too far away right now!!!

  • LayDownTheHammer

    Nice points Matt, I enjoyed your commentary.

    I was going to comment on that issue but IMHO I’m not hot on TEs for a couple reasons. 1) TEs are one of the less “essential” players that necessitate taking (at least for a smart-drafting team) in the mid-first round. I’m a huge proponent of trading down (or possibly up if we really like someone, but we have too many needs and we need all those draft picks). Trading down is also great this year because the draft is quite deep. For example, did you ever notice no RBs are projected to go in the 1st round by anyone? Could end up being the case. And look at all the great RB talent, like Carey, Sankey, Hill, Andrews, Williams, Mason, Hyde, Seastrunk, DAT, etc. I can go on and on. Thus there’s a good chance a decent RB will be around in the 6th-7th round that we can snatch for example (we are deceptively low on RBs since so many will be FAs). I have the same feeling about WRs this year – WRs we can pick in Rd 6-7 would be 4th-5th rounders other years.

    Anyway, back to the TE story. I think there are only 3 top-flight TEs – Ebron, Amaro, and ASJ. From the tape I’ve watched these three, like most college TE stars, are all pass-catching and minimal blocking, which as you know the Steelers require from a TE. I like David Johnson a lot and hope we keep him (he’s our best blocker aside from Spaeth, and he’ll be cheap), but there are quality TEs as UFAs honestly, we just have to coach them up. I doubt there’s a game-ready TE in the blocking department this year, so we just have to hope we’re healthy there this year. Personally I think the TE is a “buffer” position because they do “overlap” work with OLmen and WRs (block and catch). They’re not experts at either and TEs won’t win you the game like a good LT or WR will. That’s just my opinion though. I honestly feel our TE offensive struggles happened because we didn’t use Will Johnson in that role enough. He’s functionally like a TE, is he not?

    I totally agree with you on the CB. I was stunned to see Ekpre-Olomu go back to UO because he was legit by the game tape and measurables. Dennard I feel the same about. I haven’t seen much of Verrett in the tape but I think he’s a lot better than Gilbert. I do fear Verrett will be gone by the end of round 1 (3 CBs taken total in round 1, I predict for now). So the drop in talent and game-readiness between the 1st and 2nd rounds will be a lot, which is why I really want a first-rounder. CB is a ridiculously tough position to play as a rookie as it is, and the longer it takes to groom one, the longer it feels like you so-to-say “wasted” a draft pick. And for Pete’s sake we have to dump Curtis Brown (despite Danny Smith’s whines) because he is AWFUL. I still remember Carnell Lake bragging when he was drafted that he was “the best cover corner at the University of Texas” that year.

  • Matt Manzo

    I keep hearing that Verretts height will knock him back to the 2nd rnd.
    What are your thoughts about the taller CBs? Like Desir, Jean Baptiste and Purifoy, even McGill from Utah St? I like em tall and rangy but I’m also falling in love with Verrett and Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon St.
    I think we need CBs this draft, one early and one late. Seems like we should be able to get the speedy RB, LB depth, CB depth and DL in the end of this draft.
    About the TEs, isn’t Ebron supposed to be a decent blocker?

  • Brian Miller

    LayDown…I agree with most of what you posted about WR’s and 1st rounds but I disagree to one extent…even if the WR class is extremely deep as it appears to be this year, you still have to consider that 1)the steelers will probably be drafting multiple receivers this year, especially if they do not feel they can or should keep Sanders, and 2) if the WR is far and away head and shoulders above the rest of the class. I think you can make the argument that Watkins, Lee, and maybe Mike Evans are in that class, and then there is a significant drop off. I do agree with you as well that there is no way Watkins lasts until pick 15, and I also don’t think the Steelers should pick someone just because they are 6’4” or 6’3” for size, that Big Ben can and has made these receivers great…

  • LayDownTheHammer

    I hope so for our sake but even for our sake he won’t be around in the middle of the 2nd round (at worst, he goes early 2nd). But let’s see what his 40 time is which makes/breaks things for CBs.

    Of those taller CBs, I’ve seen tape of Purifoy only, and he’s got talent but I’m betting he’ll need 1-2 seasons to get in the rhythm because his technique is raw. I can only assume the same about the others. I’m pretty big on technique with CBs, analogous to route-running with WRs or technique with OL. OLmen who rely on size and athleticism are definitely not impact players from Day 1 (Kouandjio, despite what everyone says. He’s like Max Starks – can’t rule out that he’ll be a bust, but not a contributor from Day 1).

    I haven’t heard much about Ebron as a blocker. The tape I’ve seen on him was all pass-catching because I think UNC used him predominantly as such. I’ll take a look back at some point though since you mentioned it.

  • LayDownTheHammer

    I don’t know about multiple receivers…at most we can use 1 really. Wheaton will move into #2 and Cotch as #3 should be fine. Moye may likely be retained and Plax won’t be back. At this point though, remember that any WR in this year’s draft except Watkins/maybe Lee isn’t going to be as NFL-ready as Wheaton. He has the year advantage and so can essentially help us immediately more than nearly any draft pick. Plus, as you mentioned, Ben is throwing him the ball. Wheaton is a solid route runner with good quickness and decent hands. So I don’t feel compelled for > 1 receiver.

    I agree the WRs (and RBs) in this draft class are deep, which is precisely why we can afford to wait until later on a WR (see initial post). Watkins, Lee, Evans, Benjamin, Robinson, Cooks, Beckham and Landry, Matthews, Adams, Richardson, Bryant, Ellington, Huff, Moncrief…I can go on and on. These can all be made quality pass-catchers with Ben’s help, but there’s a real good chance that at least one of these is available in the 3rd/4th rounds, if not later.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    My thoughts exactly if i could give this ten likes i would if we had lets ay sammy watkins instead of a tall reciever an he pans out defenses would literally have to pick thier poison same can be ssid if we got a tall reciever also but we would have a fast dynamic offense with another small speedy wr

  • Garrett Hunt

    SAMMY

  • pittsburghjoe

    The two birds killed by drafting 2 tight ends in the first 2 rounds would be Colbert and Tomlin.

  • steelster

    I would like to see the steelers take landry from Lsu in round 2. This guy is the best route runner in the draft and has the best hands. Watch him on you tube. He is a bigger version of hines ward.